WINNER: Top 12 London hotels
Lisa Richards finds the perfect city bolthole for camera-shy celebrities and travellers passionate about quality service.
Since staying over at the Four Seasons Canary Wharf, I’ve been dragged around Spain and France on a press trip, published two new publications and have stayed in four other luxury hotels in order to review them. It says a lot that, with all this to-ing and fro-ing, I’ve been regularly recalling aspects of my stay at the East London outpost of one of my favourite five-star hotel brands. I’ve stayed at hotels that are comparable, price-wise, in the last couple of weeks alone, and yet the service that the Four Seasons’ staff offered was easily a couple of notches ahead of their closest competitors – from the friendly ladies that clean the rooms, right up to the restaurant’s maître d’ and concierge. God was also in the details: the finish of the hotel, the amenities in the room and the sense of space propel this hotel from a really good one to a great one.
From the moment you walk through the door – using what must be a Four Seasons-branded covert communications tool – the on-the-ground team appear to track your every movement. Not in an interfering, intrusive way, I hasten to add. Whether my Facebook had been accessed or some serious hacking undertaken, there was no reason – other than espionage – for the charming doormen to know me by name as arrived. My last visit to this hotel was when it first opened, a good few years ago now, when I was treated to a rather fine dinner at Ubon, the former East London outpost of Nobu. So I doubt very much that the affable doormen recognised me from that visit: my hair style and my swagger have most certainly changed since then. Ubon is no more, but since that first trip to Canary Wharf, its skyline has grown upwards and outwards. On my first trip, I’d pondered how long the Four Seasons would last in this wasteland. Now, it sits on the periphery of a thriving business district that’s ever-expanding, despite the economy being in the grips of recession.
The lobby was teeming with an intriguing mix of business folk, holidaying American families and music exec’ types, who were milling around before that weekend’s O2 gig. And so to check-in: “Good morning, Miss Richards.” I hadn’t even had chance to announce my arrival and already we were being whisked through the check-in process by name. We had been pre-warned that our room would not be ready until later on that afternoon –the only downside of our upgrade to the Presidential Suite. We were more than happy to wait, obviously, and prior to our check-in we had been given some excellent advice from staff at the hotel: that our bags would be stored, and that we could make the most of the neighbouring Virgin Active’s facilities, so perhaps pack our swimsuits and products separately? So, with our bags stored, we headed over to the gym. Yet more nods and ‘Good morning, Miss Richards’ as we plodded through the manicured grounds to the fitness centre. All hotel guests can make use of Virgin Active’s excellent facilities: a beautiful 20-metre infinity pool overlooking the Thames, steam rooms, Jacuzzis, gym, tanning booths and a cafe. So, after a steam and bubbles, and a good few lengths of the pool, we grabbed loungers, popped down to the changing rooms to retrieve our weekend papers, and lay poolside, the sun streaming in through the enormous glass-sided building as we snoozed and perused.
After our sedate workout, we popped into the tanning booth, made use of the hairdryers, straighteners and Molton Brown products, and returned back to the hotel’s lobby for a glass of something cold. No signs of gym exertion (not that there was any in the first place, to be fair) and now dressed in a Four Seasons-approved smart/casual assemble ready for lunch, we were asked by the lovely waitress pouring our Champagne how the swim was. Apart from the man on reception who’d stored my bags, I’d not told another soul I was going swimming. There wasn’t even the merest whiff of chlorine about my person. I couldn’t help but look about me. Who had been watching? Who’d seen me leave the front entrance of the hotel and pop around the corner to the gym? It’s all very underhand.
After commenting on how lovely my hair looked (really? Really? I was so happy, I blushed), our genuinely charming waitress poured our second glass of bubbles and informed us that our suite was ready. We finished off our drinks and headed up to the higher floors of the hotel and were shown around our vast suite by one of the desk staff.
Just a few days before, Justin Bieber had been sleeping on this very bed. And we could certainly see why A-listers opt for this place: secure parking down in the bowels of the building, so lying-in-wait Paparazzi and hoards of screaming girls can be avoided; discreet super-professional staff that can point you in the direction of the private lift; the ability to escape by speedboat from the banks of the Thames below; and all the amenities a superstar could possibly need in the vast expanse of the suites, whose views are flooded with the setting sunlight, pouring in a breathtaking view of London’s skyline and twisting old river.
I then luxuriated in the bath, in the enormous bathroom, abusing the generous supply of Bulgari and L’Occitaine products, and surrounded by floor-to-ceiling marble. I especially loved the abundant amount of dense, fluffy white towels – enough to dry a small town on a wet day – and the oversized robes, which I wore as I padded through the dressing room (with iron and board, hairdryer located near a mirror and plugs, loads of hanging space and a full-length mirror – hurray!), into our bedroom with its window seat overlooking the river, back through into the living room area with its enormous Italian furniture, beyond into the dining room and then into the kitchenette, with a well-stocked mini bar. I mixed a G&T, and padded back through to the bedroom to watch trashy telly while the sun set. After our relaxation, we dressed for dinner. A knock on the door signalled a cheeky pre-dinner amuse-bouche of fresh fruit and very naughty tiramisu.
Downstairs is Quadrato, with its glass-clad kitchen, high ceilings and north Italian menu. It’s hard not to watch as you see your dish being prepared ready for the pass. Before dinner, as I was perusing the menu, a waiter came over and asked if my colleague and I would like another glass of the champagne we’d had earlier. Do they take notes? Are the staff equipped with night vision goggles and binoculars? This was getting ridiculous. We were seated next to a couple who clearly ate there weekly, and we were greeted as warmly and fondly as these regulars were. We started off with Italian style ‘tapas’: small bites of deliciousness, washed down with some fizz. Our pasta dishes were certainly the high-point of the meal and I’m ashamed to admit that I went for another helping of the tiramisu. Yes, an obvious choice when dining in an Italian restaurant, but it is a weakness of mine. The mini taster upstairs in my suite had left me wanting more. Service, as with everywhere else in the hotel, was faultless. After a brandy, forced upon us by our waiter – we are easily led – we waddled back to our suite, to watch the lights twinkling over London. The windows must have been quadruple glazed and the rooms insulated as we didn’t hear a peep all night. Whether it was the swimming earlier, one too many glasses of wine, that extra portion of tiramisu or the generously proportioned bed with its soft high thread-count cotton, I slept soundly and deeply.
The next morning the restaurant was transformed. And packed. ‘Good morning Miss Richards, good morning Miss Richards’ greeted me at every turn. Breakfast at a Four Seasons is a must-see event: the normally sedate pace changes to a frantic pitch of noise and activity, with families packing out the dining area and waiters dashing back and forth to the kitchen with plates laden with eggs Benedict, strange orders of yolk-free omelettes from the fitness-freak Yanks in the room, and never-ending refills of coffee and freshly-squeezed juice. We sat for over an hour, watching the world go by, reading the papers as the sun streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows. With the view of the pool in sight, we decided to head back down to the gym for another few lengths before our departure. This time, with hair still wet from our dip, we gave the game away to passing members of staff, who enquired after our swim. However, even if we had been wearing fake moustache and glasses, we’re pretty sure they would have still greeted us correctly.
With our bags securely stored, we headed out into Canary Wharf in the sunshine, taking in the Gotham-like streets, wandering down by the docks and popping into the excellent Museum of London Docklands. We even managed a spot of shopping, rubbing shoulders with the dressed-down City boys and their families who pack out the Wharf’s modern mall of a weekend. After much deliberation, we opted for an excellent cheap lunch at Thomasina Miers’s Wahaca (we could have chosen from an array of world-class eateries). If you ever want a weekend away, without ever having to leave the Capital, treat yourself to some of the finest hotel service that money can by in one of London’s most exciting areas that feels a million miles from tourist-packed streets of Central London.
Four Seasons, 46 Westerry Circus, London, E14 8RS
Tel: 020 7510 1999